But are these now reopened? As senior Chinese leader Min Zhu (朱民) said to me—with absolutely no trace of irony at all—back in 2015: “What are you Americans going to do to fix your broken political system?”

We're in an emergency more pressing, more severe, and more strait than any war in human history. The US moneyed class has prevented this from being publicly acknowledged in any meaningful way. Min Zhu is not wrong. (I mean the now-nearly-certain incipient collapse of agriculture, not COVID. COVID is only an emergency in places the political system is broken.)

Min Zhu is not wrong about the US' inability to maintain a common universe of discourse, to manage some more nuanced view than an absolute prohibition on restricting (white, male) speech while everyone else's speech is managed through economic coercion (at least economic), or to acknowledge that illusory truth is a thing and ownership of that means of production (Murdoch, Zuckerberg) is an unreasonable amount of power for any individual to have in any system that claims to be a representative democracy.

White supremacy is inconsistent with a functioning post-industrial economy, a knowledge economy, anything where biology is important. It doesn't matter how anyone feels about it. It's not just "white supremacy or functioning public sphere?", it's also "white supremacy or functioning economy?" (I'm lumping mammonism, that heresy of white supremacy, in with the ancestral white supremacy.)

In terms of socialism, socialism can't work, and the people advocating it don't (and didn't) so much know that it doesn't work as they know that they're pursuing justice so there must be a means of reaching their goals even if they do not presently understand how.

This is mirror-symmetrical to the market position, which ignores the terrible consequences and how easy it is to pick which consequences get ignored.

If we approach the question with current knowledge, it's obvious that any functioning system needs both constraints and feedback. The socialist position is that you can do it all with constraints, and the market position is that you can do it all with feedback. Both are wrong from first principles.

That doesn't mean there's a working middle ground between socialism and markets; it does mean that any working system -- one that's solved the parasitism problem (the rich are not all the parasites), how to have a common universe of discourse, how to make policy from facts, and how to win fights with the present incumbents -- will have both feedback and constraints. (And be designed in a context of both memory and iteration. As a species, we know a lot about this; I don't think it's made it very far into political science.)

Expand full comment

A few thoughts:

1 -- The German socialists weren't wrong. One thing you haven't discussed is the distinction between what you might call "minor" property (personal clothing, etc.) and "the means of production", or "the fruits of the earth" in older terms. While enjoyment of personal clothing was never really proposed for socialization by most people, it's utterly clear that private "ownership" of land is a theft from the commons and nobody really disputes this. (Those who have tired to dispute it make ridiculous arguments which are not worth mentioning; you know them, and you know they're stupid.) The serious argument is about what sort of things in the "middle" can be considered suitable as private property, versus which things must be maintained in the commons. (This is partly why all land rights are actually limited "estates in land" containing specific restricted usage rights, in every legal system ever.) This is completely obscured by most discussions, thanks to right-wing thieves who want to privatize everything and their caricaturization of their opponents' arguments -- who fill economics departments.

Perhaps the most reasonable socialist program was the one of Clement Atlee, which was the best execution of the mainstream 19th century socialist parties' plans. He did, in fact, nationalize the major private industries. By buyouts. (It is a lying right-wing slur to refer to "confiscations", so you should cut it out!) The large fortunes were reduced... by taxation. (Again, it is a right-wing slur to refer to "confiscations".)

Unfortunately, after failing to handle some difficult situations which probably nobody could have handled well, voters later elected Tories again on platforms of fraud, and the Tories set about making everything worse in every possible way; I really can't describe it any other way. There are some deep questions in political science as to why *that* happens; but the only conclusion I have come to is that anyone with a reform program must be careful not to fuck up major issues of the day, as opportunistic frauds will convince the people to vote for them instead. And the people *will* fall for frauds, at least for a while. See also: Reagan, Trump.

I roll my eyes at anyone who criticizes "actually existing socialism", which was a rampant, total success in the UK in the 1950s, despite making deep mistakes in railway policy and being unable to solve some very difficult problems of electricity generation policy.

The USSR barely even pretended to be socialist after Stalin took over. It's clear where it went wrong: several socialists abandoned it precisely when Lenin decided he didn't need to pay attention to the rule of law or the facts or democracy, thus enabling any power-hungry person to try to seize power however he wished. Who can disagree with Martov's criticisms of Lenin?

In my view, the primary socialist program replaces the inequities of inherited wealth, wealth acquired by gambling and luck (markets), and wealth acquired by violence and threats (perhaps the oldest way), with inequities determined by *voting*. If the people proceed to vote for a particularly bad form of inequality, the British Labour Party -- or the Mensheviks -- or the Social Democratic Party of Germany -- concedes temporary defeat and tries to win over more people at the next vote. By contrast, Lenin or Mao rejects democracy, which is their error, because socialism is essentially the application of democracy to property, and at exactly that point, in my view, Lenin and Mao abandoned socialism.

2 -- I will note that China's government claims legitimacy through democratic elections. They use a multi-layer system to eliminate real democracy; if the block elects a dissident, the ward (elected by block leaders) won't; if the ward is really unhappy and a majority of blocks elect dissidents so that the ward elects a dissident, the city (elected by ward leaders) won't; etc. They also more directly block candidates from running, but this gets *severe local pushback* consistently and it gets them in a lot of trouble, so they've been using that method as little as possible. Disqualifying candidates is blunt and looks illegitimate; it gets authoritarian fake-democratic leaders in trouble worldwide, from Iran to Myanmar.

Despite the elections currently being a scam, the fundamental acceptance of the idea that elections are the sole source of legitimacy is endemic in China. They're stuck with it. (Just as nearly every dictator in the world pretends that he has won elections. I believe the King of Saudi Arabia is the *only* exception.)

I do wonder why Xi hasn't realized that making the elections more legitimate is going to be necessary to avoid an unexpected revolution; it will be. Smarter leaders have done this in other countries (notably Morocco, recently). Xi's fragile ego, fear of criticism, and paranoid resort to authoritarianism for things for which it essentially backfires are his problem.

The US, of course, has the same problem with elections rigged in favor of the right-wingers (i.e. monarchists). Notably the malapportioned US Senate, but also gerrymandering and the Electoral College. While democracy has made great strides in mindshare, and is really dominating mindshare everywhere, the monarchists continue to fight it by fraud and stealth.

3 -- Markets are a tool. They are not naturally efficient; as you know if you work the mathematical game theory, they achieve particular results if they are designed a particular way; the regulation is the *entirety* of the market. There can be no market without regulation -- the minimum regulation insures that both parties in a trade follow through on their deal -- otherwise there are no markets, only gifts and theft! A typical additional regulation is an anti-fraud regulation, but sometimes the "buyer beware"/"caveat emptor" regulation is chosen instead. It's a regulatory choice. Social pressure, threats of ostracism or violence, may form the regulation rather than government-driven laws, but a market is always and only based on regulation. The regulation determines the results of the market. There is no such thing as a market without regulation; a market is a set of regulations and their result.

The Texas electricity markets were designed to achieve the result they achieved: price-gouging, profiteering, blackouts, system failures, frozen and burst pipes, homes without heat. Among the regulatory decisions they made to achieve this: no winterization requirements; no capacity requirements or market; no connections to the outside world. The results were not only predictable, but in fact actually were predicted.

The rest of the states have designed markets to achieve reliability, heat, and reasonable prices.

It was a choice.

Expand full comment

I must emphasize that one cannot discuss the rise of Lenin without discussing how he eliminated his *more popular* contemporaries among the Mensheviks and Social Democrats, who continued to call for the same sort of *democratic* and *popular* socialist programs which eventually were implemented by Clement Atlee after he won election in the UK. It unfortunately took until after WWII to implement the first actual social democratic program, because by definition a social *democratic* program could only be implemented by a successfully *elected* government.

Lenin was specifically already unpopular and documented to be so when he ran the October Bolshevik coup; he rejected democracy. He pretended to support democracy, though. There are direct parallels to the later fascist coups. Democracy has a greater mindshare now than it did in 1917 and I wonder if his coup would have been possible at all had democracy had today's mindshare. Witness how difficult the military in Myanmar, with *every* advantage I can think of tactically and strategically *except* for being undemocratic, is finding it to run their current coup.

Expand full comment

Interesting... although they did do a lot of claiming that "proletarian democracy" or "people's democracy" was the real democracy, back in THE DAY...

Expand full comment